Global Guerrillas is 3GW (and not Global)

Purpleslog recently hosted a great discussion on the Global Guerrilla Concept. (For the uninitiated, GG is a theory of war popularized at the Global Guerrillas and John Robb blogs.) Purpleslog himself commented:

They certainly don’t have same goals or 4GW. GG operations are not designed to send 4GW messages like “you can’t win this, you shouldn’t even try”.

The GG are in a way light infantry forces with additional special skills and tactics operating in a specific unique environment.

I usually shorthand to myself 3GW as WW1 Stormtroopers, WW2 Patton/Rommel armored/mechanized maneuver forces, Israel boldness and initiative in the 1967 War or the newer high tech version NCW/EBO.

Is there a reason a Light Infantry variant of 3GW could not appear?

GG is a 3GW variant.

Curtis Gale Weeks of Phatic Communion also chimed in:

I still maintain, (and would link my prior considerations, if they weren’t so spread out), that Robb’s GG theory makes a very, very big mistake in assuming that no “common motivation” would be behind the GG. My argument against his leap of faith, in this case, would be related to 1) the mistake people make when assuming that the different items being compared in metaphor are identical, when in fact they are not, or 2) mistaking patterns seen via horizontal thinking for real “observable” entities when in fact it is a mish-mash, a mix-and-match.

This “emergence” of GG — call it a phenomenon — is more of a description of a developing environment or milieu than any sort of coherent movement. The name “Global Guerrillas” is therefore misleading, because it implies (to me at least) a commonality between all the different groups which emerge: they are “global” in operation–when in fact, they would most likely be local. If they are not local in a confined geographical sense, they would be local in following limited areas of “ungoverned space” or “ungoverned pathways.” As soon as any combination of groups begin to form factions to have a global reach, they would cease having “no common motivation.”

I have previously written on Global Guerrillas and 3GW, as well as an order-of-magnitude improvement over 3GW, 4GW.

2 thoughts on “Global Guerrillas is 3GW (and not Global)”

  1. Surely, by definition, GGs are “non-state actors” which puts them smack in the middle of 4GW?

    GG *is* 4GW (I don't think Robb wants to call it a different generation) but it isn't just anyone's 4GW theory, it is a specific flavour of analysis.

    What seems to be the crucial (distinguishing) elements of Robb's GG theory are :

    – there are many groups, who don't need to share strategic objectives to share tactical co-operation. (Interestingly, this is how Richard Stallman once described his relationship with the Open Source movement. Different strategic objectives but tactical co-operation.)

    – the groups don't need explicit connections but can communicate and co-ordinate “stimergically” ie. tapes broadcast on arabic TV, stories of decapitation in the media inspire other groups to try the same tactic.

    – the groups are shifting their patterns of attack from symbolic targets or “killing a lot of people” to systems disruption.

    I don't think Robb's name “Global Guerilllas” is particularly felicitatious, but I think I see where it's coming from. I suspect “global” is meant to imply that we should see this as a universal phenomenon in that it's popping up everywhere (in US cities and China as well as Baghdad); and that the reach of guerrillas can be global (eg. bombings from Bali to London, taking out a pipeline affects the world oil price.)

    The question of whether there are “common” motivations does indeed depend on how narrowly you define a motivation. But I think Robb's intuition is that motivations and strategic objectives are “more diverse than you probably imagine” (particularly if you naively imagine that the Iraq insurgency (for example) is nothing but a few unreconstructed Saddamists and a few Al-Qaeda infiltrators. Or conversely, a heroic anti-imperialist mass movement.)

    For a long time it's been hard to get much acknowledgement about the roles that either a) good old fashioned “crime”, or b) sectarian gangs, are playing in Iraq. It's not that they're not acknowledged, but that they weren't taken seriously in strategic planning.

    Iraq optimists desperately didn't want to see sectarian violence erupting, and (rightly) didn't see that such an outcome was inevitable. So they (wrongly) tried to ignore it.

    Robb, with his GG analysis succesfully diagnosed that it was in the interests of Al-Qaeda to *seed* and encourage sectarian violence, and that it could be nurtured to the point when it became self-supporting. Now “sectarian retaliation” is a major motive for much of the killing and social disruption in Iraq. And likely carried out by people who share no common objectives with either Al-Qeada or Baathists.

    To the extent Robb's “bazaar” model gives us a way of explaining and understanding that situation, it's way ahead of someone who's still trying to identify the secret mastermind, or the common evil ideology, behind all violence in Iraq.

  2. Phil,

    Does any violent non-state become 4GW? Pre-modern forces? Warlord militias that use blitz tactics? A deranged student army that has 2GW-style trenches would now be 4GW?

    Likewise, if GG abandons Boyd's dictum that “,influence the uncommitted or potential adversaries so that they are drawn toward our philosophy and are empathetic toward our success” (which is implied in not sharing strategic objectives), it seems closer to NCW (a variant of 3GW) than 4GW. Or even plain-old pre-modern tribal violence.

    Likewise, using symbolic communication is nothing no. During the Tora Bora campaign US jets wrote “NO” in contrails to indicate displeasure on her allies' bargaining. That doesn't make it GG.

    I'm unsure why John chose “Global,” other than that it alliterates, other than implying it's a product of globalization. His posts seem to say there should be global cooperation among his GGs, who act like demons, acting without motivation or self-interest.

  3. Phil,

    **Surely, by definition, GGs are “non-state actors” which puts them smack in the middle of 4GW?”

    Only if , non-state actor status is the only defining feature of 4GW. What is confusing about GG is that it resembles 4GW (non-state actors, advanced guerilla warfare), but pursue 3GW goals (attack critical infrastructure Centers-of-Gravity to disrupt and collapse your enemy), while also using techniques that appear in 3GW (smaller dispersed forces acting on mission orders, infiltrating to the enemy rear areas).

    **
    – there are many groups, who don't need to share strategic objectives to share tactical co-operation. (Interestingly, this is how Richard Stallman once described his relationship with the Open Source movement. Different strategic objectives but tactical co-operation.)
    **

    This is definitely 4GW-like.

    **- the groups are shifting their patterns of attack from symbolic targets or “killing a lot of people” to systems disruption.
    **

    Well, here is the issue: not 4GW messages, but 3GW rear-area Center-of-Gravity infrastructure attacks.

    **
    Robb, with his GG analysis succesfully diagnosed that it was in the interests of Al-Qaeda to *seed* and encourage sectarian violence, and that it could be nurtured to the point when it became self-supporting. Now “sectarian retaliation” is a major motive for much of the killing and social disruption in Iraq. And likely carried out by people who share no common objectives with either Al-Qeada or Baathists.
    **

    I am sympathetic to seeing the Al-Qaeda actions described above as 4GW at the strategic level(and I guess operational level) in doing the seeding. However, the GGs themselves are not doing 4GW. They are doing a new type of 3GW at the tactical level. I think.

    **
    To the extent Robb's “bazaar” model gives us a way of explaining and understanding that situation, it's way ahead of someone who's still trying to identify the secret mastermind, or the common evil ideology, behind all violence in Iraq.
    **
    The bazaar model is an interesting and clever idea.

    Purpleslog

  4. “His posts seem to say there should be global cooperation among his GGs, who act like demons, acting without motivation or self-interest.”

    Dan: Well, you know I've thought of the “demons” aspect too — in fact, I think I first used that word to characterize Robb's thesis! — but…well, think about our thoughts on metaphorizing and gods and shining beings and ghosts and…eh? Maybe that global motivation is not yet well defined in GG theory; but that does not mean it will not exist.

  5. OK. At the end of the day, I'm not going to argue too much about “4GW” vs. “3GW”. I get the term from Lind, so my understanding is basically what he says. If there are other people using it differently (for example, defining it in terms of specific tactics) I don't have much to say on that matter. I have no great stake in the terminology.

    Undoubtedly tactics like “sabotage” have been around for a long time. Car-bombs have been around for a long time. They aren't definitive of generation. Although I suppose the same can be said of “guns”.

    dan : “Does any violent non-state become 4GW? Pre-modern forces? Warlord militias that use blitz tactics? A deranged student army that has 2GW-style trenches would now be 4GW?”

    In practice, it seems to me that trench warfare is more likely to appear in a war between very hierarchical centrally controlled armies. You need people at the top to decide that it's worth expending a millions of lives for a couple of miles of territory. That seems a decision that's unlikely to be made by finer granularity autonomous cells.

    “Likewise, if GG abandons Boyd's dictum that “,influence the uncommitted or potential adversaries so that they are drawn toward our philosophy and are empathetic toward our success””

    That could be done by discrediting the state too. When you lose faith in the state to protect you and turn to your local milita you become drawn to the philosophy of that group.

  6. Phil,

    “In practice, it seems to me that trench warfare is more likely to appear in a war between very hierarchical centrally controlled armies. You need people at the top to decide that it's worth expending a millions of lives for a couple of miles of territory. That seems a decision that's unlikely to be made by finer granularity autonomous cells.”

    So “non-state actors” would be a common description, not a “definition” (see first comment)?

    Think of the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, which saw the light-infantry 3GW Taliban subdue the 2GW trench-and-artillery forces of the warlords.

    More broadly, I think you are confusing a vertical control structure [1]. A drug gang [2] uses vertical controls, but is not a state.

    “When you lose faith in the state to protect you and turn to your local militia you become drawn to the philosophy of that group.”

    This is a basic misunderstanding of the difference between Moral and Physical warfare. John Robb, while not making it himself, has criticized it. Believing that one can win “hearts and minds” by clearing-and-holding civilians was behind the disastrous strategic hamlet policy.

    [1] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2005/04/12/controls_vertical-horizontal_strong-weak_implicit-explicit_s.html
    [2] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2005/11/30/inside-the-black-gangster-disciple-nation-crack-cocaine-gang.html
    [3] http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/globalguerrillas/2005/12/clear_and_hold.html

  7. “So “non-state actors” would be a common description, not a “definition” (see first comment)?”

    Well, I was taking NSAs as a definitional (the idea I picked up from Lind). Although my example was a “description”, I agree. I'll give you that NSAs are merely a correlated symptom rather than definitional if you like.

    “More broadly, I think you are confusing a vertical control structure [1]. A drug gang [2] uses vertical controls, but is not a state.”

    Well nation-states are the largest, most succesful vertical control structures we know, right? Agreed that other vertical control structures could send people into the trenches if their control was powerful enough.

    “This is a basic misunderstanding of the difference between Moral and Physical warfare. John Robb, while not making it himself, has criticized it. Believing that one can win “hearts and minds” by clearing-and-holding civilians was behind the disastrous strategic hamlet policy.”

    Not sure I understand this. Isn't one objective at the moral level to destroy the moral cohesion of the enemy? If you see Al Qaeda's objective as being to destroy any US-backed nation-state (possibly with the long term aim of making it easier to digest the pieces in an islamic superstate at a later date) then having the Iraqis give up on “Iraq, the nation state”, and fight among themselves to the discredit of the official organs of the state such as police and army, seems to be pretty effective. There's no need to win the hearts and minds (yet).

  8. Phil,

    Thanks for clarifying the role of non-state actors in 4GW.

    GG falls apart as a 4GW (a form of war requiring moral war) for the reason that John Boyd called the central themes of warfare:

    “Shape or influence events so that we not only amplify our spirit and strength but also influence the uncommitted or potential adversaries so that they are drawn toward our philosophy and are empathetic toward our success,

    Penetrate adversary’s moral-mental-physical being in order to isolate him from his allies, pull him apart, and collapse his will to resist.”

    Following an idealism of violence is a self-isolating, like John Robb claims Global Guerrillas would do, is a self-isolating philosophy. Of course it's possible a nihilist would fight a war that way. But it would not be a 4GW war, as the violence does far more to discredit al Qaeda as a rallying point than it does against her far enemy, the United States.

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